Petite Maman

An eight-year-old girl meets her mother at the same age in this gorgeous and elegiac time-travel fairytale from French filmmaker Céline Sciamma

Film Review by Jamie Dunn | 16 Nov 2021
  • Petite Maman
Film title: Petite Maman
Director: Céline Sciamma
Starring: Joséphine Sanz, Gabrielle Sanz, Nina Meurisse, Stéphane Varupenne, Margot Abascal
Release date: 19 Nov

The brilliant French writer-director Céline Sciamma returns to the world of childhood that characterises her greatest cinematic achievements (Tomboy, My Life as a Courgette) with Petite Maman. The story follows a precocious eight-year-old girl, Nelly (Joséphine Sanz), who makes a wonderful discovery one day in the woods behind the house that used to belong to her gran, which is being packed up after her recent death. While playing she meets Marion, a girl with a striking resemblance to her (she’s played by Gabrielle Sanz, Joséphine’s twin). It’s no wonder there’s a similarity: Marion is Nelly’s mother.

The time-space continuum breach that allows a mother and daughter to meet at the same age – lonely kid’s daydream or Back to the Future-esque time-travel? – is left ambiguous initially, with Sciamma instead happy to let us enjoy the magic of child and parent meeting at the same eye level. We watch them build a fort and act out a goofy murder-mystery play and simply delight in each other’s company.

Sciamma’s previous two features, the social-realist coming-of-age film Girlhood and her sweeping lesbian romance Portrait of a Lady on Fire, were more ambitious in scope and themes, but Petite Maman should be no-less celebrated. The filmmaking is simple and the story slim (the runtime is an all-too-brief 72 minutes), but this elegiac fairytale is brimming over with emotion and, like its young protagonists, surprisingly wise in its explorations of grief and love.

Released 19 Nov by MUBI; certificate U